It has been difficult…

With palms together,

I wish you all a Good afternoon

I woke this morning feeling physically and emotionally drained from a work week which left me, or should I say “I allowed the week to drain from me the energy which I need to live a happy, joyous life.” My weekly long run has moved from Saturday to Sunday more out of necessity than of choice.

My new job has left me with questions. There have been more questions than answers. This I can live with as I know the answers are there. Perhaps I am looking to hard and my expectations too great.

The biggest question has been “Do I want to do this anymore?”The first question is “What is this?” This is my career in Social Work. I LOVE meeting with patients and I LOVE the art of counseling and therapy. This job, not unlike others in the past is purely administrative. What I have been exposed to so far has left me speechless and wondering. Like the Seven Wonders of the World, I have been wondering if I want these responsibilities any longer.

My new best friend, in addition to the increase in stress and general unhappiness, has been a blood pressure monitor. While high blood pressure genetically runs in my family and despite running 30-plus miles every week, my blood pressure has been of concern; so much so I have been contemplating contacting my doctor to discuss medication. Medication is not a choice which I wish to pursue but experiencing a stroke is even less tasteful.

I want to believe I have a solid self-care plan which, in addition to my running includes daily meditation. These items in my plan have not been enough to counter my concerns. There appears to be no end in sight for the stress which I have been feeling. The coming week should if my prediction is accurate should bring with it an increase in stress levels which may force me to make decisions or at least a decision.

As I write this piece, I sit in one of the places where stress cannot reach me. It is the one place which actually energizes me and helps me to recharge my batteries and balance the scales. This is a place where finding joy is an easy task. If anyone has guessed, it is the outdoors. I have been walking for over an hour and thoughts of writing have been pouring out of me, so much so I found myself stopping, pulling a notebook from my pocket and writing down these thoughts. I am also reminded that there is no stress with me. My posture has improved as has the weight on my shoulders.

I reached my destination, remove my pack and begin to furiously scribble my thoughts. Happiness returns. For fun, I remove the blood pressure monitor which I allowed to accompany me on this hike. I place it on my wrist and press the start button. The whir of the electronics causes the cuff to tighten and begin to measure my blood pressure. The unit beeps indicating it has completed its task and I cautiously look at the results; well within normal ranges. The only other time during the week has been upon waking and upon returning from a run.

The thought of resigning flashes through my head as it does several times each day. A letter with Thoreau wrote to Harrison Blake on November 16, 1857, said, “It is not enough to be industrious; so are the ants. What are you industrious about? This resonates with me as I feel once the key has been retracted from the door of my office and I have entered my office that I have stepped upon a treadmill not to get off until the workday has come to an unofficial end. I say “unofficial” because we reside in a society where leaving the office by 5 PM is often frowned upon and sometimes viewed as a weakness. This belief, in the past had left me with pangs of guilt. It now leaves me with a smile as I speed away from the building which houses my office and to leave it for another day. This treadmill of which I speak seems as all treadmills are to be never ending. Many days pass by with me wondering what I have even accomplished as most days there is nothing measurable but the deep waters over which I have traveled.

Almost as if on cue, a dark cloud passes overhead; the breeze which was cooling now increases and raindrops begin to fall. It’s not going to rain but it is enough to ensure I have cover. Within minutes, the sun begins to again make an appearance. This is my typical workday; cloudy with a chance of sun. The moments of sunshine are synonymous with the time during the day when stress feels less and I find myself smiling and thinking, “This isn’t too bad. I can do this.”

None of us ever wants to admit we are powerless over what happens throughout the day. We are however not powerless over our responses. Choosing to react or respond requires energy. It is this energy which we so willingly choose to give away to others by blaming them for our life situations and life stressors. None of us accepts it is the behavior and attitudes which we choose to respond which will indicate the energy which we have remaining. Amazingly, none of us would be willing to share a morsel of food or a few dollars with another but we are all willing to give others complete and total control over our minds, our responses and more importantly, our happiness.

Decisions will need to be made. My health and happiness are far too important to be impacted by a paycheck…

In Thoreau’s last letter to Myron Benton in 1862, he says, “You ask particularly after my health. I suppose that I have not many months to live; but of course, I know nothing about it. I may add that I am enjoying existence as much as ever, and regret nothing. My desire is to regret nothing and herein lies the decision which will need to be made.

Namaste

The End of Frustration

With palms together,

I wish you all a Good Morning

It’s a little after 10:00 AM and outside I see a blue sky which promises to provide a beautiful weather background for this Fourth of July. My heart is taking in this beautiful morning, a morning which followed a week complete with frustrations, joy and solitude. It often felt as though every day of this past week has been filled with more downs than uplifting moments. It is weeks such as this which challenge me. I make time every morning to ensure the day begins with the skills necessary to ensure a smooth transition from personal life to professional life and back again.

I believe I am a typical individual; as things get in the way throughout the day, frustration often rises and I find myself forgetting the skills which have allowed me to successfully manage the frequent turmoil. When the skills feel to be completely lost, I find myself resorting to a more primal response; swearing. To swear (paribhasa or sapati) is to utter rude or insulting speech, usually when angry. The Buddha described such speech as “rough, cutting, bitter about others, abusive to others, provoking anger, and disturbing the mind.” For many of us, despite our desire and the spiritual path which we follow, it becomes an easy path; a path of least resistance on which we find ourselves walking.

As with all life stressors which we may not have the ability to control, we are responsible for our response. When I discover that I lack adequate information to complete tasks at my job, when I discover there was misinformation and discovered or admitted I have no control over these stressors; calmness is all but forgotten. It becomes easy to rely on those primal responses. Those same responses which, when used again and again become second nature. I find myself going on auto-pilot and if left unchecked will find myself crashing and burning. We struggle with the knowledge that there are many life stressors over which we have no control and blame others for our life situations. Autopilot is nothing but a click away. We feel justified in our response because “everyone does it.”

I return to my daily practice in life to make sure there are many  other options than simply returning to autopilot. I sit quietly with my mind in meditation and letting it be what it is. When I am out on a run, especially a long run, I often do battle with my mind, my thoughts. It becomes easy to resort to autopilot and this skill of sitting quietly and training my mind to not reactively respond to thoughts is integral to my success each day. My mindful practice allows me to see things as they are when they happen as opposed to what I would prefer or like them to be as they happen. When I allow my mindfulness to take the front seat, it becomes easier to make adjustments in mood, behavior, and demeanor. It’s not that I am not frustrated, angry, sad or fearful; it is the ability to recognize these feelings and be able to create a space between these feelings, the thoughts which accompany them and my response. I can easily admit I do not always desire to take this the higher road. It is easier to yell, scream, swear and stomp our feet. This produces more stress which may not be noticeable at first but will certainly be remembered by those around us and give use the appearance that we respond reactively to everything in life. This causes a lack of trust by others in us and in our abilities. The more I practice mindfulness, the easier it becomes to not allow myself to enter this “danger zone.”

Our spiritual path accepts us as we are. We are not going to Hell for our responses. It is that we create our own Hell here on Earth.

“I’m depressed”

I’m sure I’m going to get some slack for this post…it is what it is. This post is meant to start a conversation but a conversation which should be had with your doctor and preferably with a psychiatrist AND a therapist. The latter two are entities which are often neglected and overlooked. Depression is in fact a disease what I will be discussing is the all to common way we use the term, “I’m depressed.”

This post is also not meant to be a diagnostic tool. This post is meant to cause discussion and hopefully cause some to look within at their lives and learn to control what they can, let go of what they cannot and as the Serenity Prayer states, “to learn to know the difference.”

True depression is no joke and should not ever be confused with the ups and down which are naturally occurring in life. There are stressors beyond our realm of control and there are those not only within our realm of control but often caused by our own actions such as posts we make on Facebook or the time we decided to drink too much and drive causing our arrest.

I’m depressed. I hear this stated several times each day, every day. Of course I’m a therapist and I’m supposed to hear this statement everyday. The problem is most people who make this statement are not depressed. Most aren’t even sad. They have on the other hand been perhaps dealt a bad hand but more than likely we simply haven’t received what we thought we were due.

I grew up in the sixties and don’t recall hearing this statement. To be fair, those individuals who were legitimately suffering from depression never told anyone and probably didn’t seek help. There certainly weren’t any television commercials touting the symptoms of depression and suggesting you go and see your doctor because you needed medication.

My dad was born in 1939. He was born with polio, retired for medical reasons in 1990 and today at the age of 76 is unable to walk. His legs will not support his weight and his only mode of transportation is a battery-powered scooter. I recall my dad telling me about a specific conversation his father had had with him. He said, “Don, you’re going to get up everyday and decide what kind of day you’re going to have and how you’re going to allow people to treat you. If you want to be treated like a victim then be a victim.” My father reminded me of this story when I complained about not wanting to go to school, how I was being bullied or the math test which I tried in vain to avoid.

Today we live in a society where the value system shared by many is one of complaining how bad my life is. There is no end to the support groups and self-help books which remind us how resilient we can be and how we all have the tools to be successful in life.

For my therapy career which has spanned almost 30-years, I have always referred to the self-help genre as “feel good” books. We purchase said books, read said books and we feel better…for anywhere from a few days to a few months. Because we usually change nothing but expect miracles to happen we are ultimately disappointed in the book and its author. We write a negative review on Amazon.com, tell others not to waste their money and go on feeling, in many cases sorry for ourselves. We visit our doctor and tell him/her we haven’t been sleeping/eating well and that we “feel depressed.” We leave the office with a prescription for a medication which often not only has side effects but does not work effectively because we do not have a true diagnosis of depression.

What is depression? Below are the symptoms of depression:
Sadness or depressed mood most of the day or almost every day
Loss of enjoyment in things that were once pleasurable
Major change in weight (gain or loss of more than 5% of weight within a month) or appetite
Insomnia or excessive sleep almost every day
Physical restlessness or sense of being rundown that is noticeable by others
Fatigue or loss of energy almost every day
Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness or excessive guilt almost every day
Problems with concentration or making decisions almost every day
Recurring thoughts of death or suicide, suicide plan, or suicide attempt
Five (or more) of the following symptoms have been present during the same 2-week period and represent a change from previous functioning; at least one of the symptoms is either (1) depressed mood or (2) loss of interest or pleasure.

If you have any of these symptoms, schedule an appointment with your doctor AND a therapist. It’s important to address any underlying causes of depression. In future posts I’ll cover Adjustment Disorders and Major Depression.

Morning Paddle

I woke early this morning and loaded the boat on top of the Element. This was my first paddle in several months. I drove to one of my favorite put-is on the Erie canal and unloaded my boat. After I packed safety gear in the boat, I sat quietly on a nearby bench watching a family of ducks as they foraged the nearby grounds for breakfast.

I eased the boat into the still water and slid silently into the cockpit. I adjusted the spray skirt and paddle and began. The only sound was made as my paddle blades entered and exited the water.

20140901_100012

I paddled past many ducks and geese and saw a couple of other paddlers out enjoying the solitude of this morning. I paddled into a secluded lagoon, reached forward with my paddle and stretched across the deck of my boat. There I sat silently bobbing in the water, my eyes closed simply being one with my boat and with my surroundings.

DCIM100GOPRO

As time passed by it became time to head home. The solitude of the early morning not only broken but gone. I was passed by three power boats, a few fisherman in their own boats and a couple of other paddlers. Several fisherman also lined the banks of the canal.

I paddled back to the put-in, released the spray skirt and brought my legs out of the cockpit as the bow gently kissed the shore. Again I sat, tired but content with today’s efforts and feeling a tremendous amount of gratitude for my life.

DCIM100GOPRO

I returned home, brewed a cup of coffee and swayed in my hammock as I wrote. A gentle breeze stirred the leaves; the sound of cicadas joining the chorus before my eyes fluttered and sleep took me.

What are you thankful for today?

Namaste

A loss

The news hit me hard Monday; Robin Williams has died. News which I didn’t want to hear and certainly didn’t want to accept.
 
I know of Robin’s struggles with addiction and depression and can relate personally to the latter. Depression is that silent illness; the illness which no one can see. As a result when symptoms are especially difficult to manage, those around us simply say, “Get over it. It’s no big deal.”
 
Rest in Peace Robin.
 
I hope you find peace in the next life and know you have had a tremendous impact on those who watched your movies and had the luxury of knowing you. 
 
I hope your struggle allows others to seek the help which is available and to overcome the shame which is too often associated with seeking help for depression. There are so many beautiful things in this world and you are one of them. Know your humor has helped me to overcome difficulties in my own life and to become the person I am today.

The ‘Dacks

I returned from a vacation in May and decided I would not let happen what happened last year. It was one year between vacations. I took off a day here and there to make several long weekends, but it wasn’t enough. I found myself tired, depressed and angry. Then winter arrived. Normally winter is a speed bump but this winter lasted well into March. We received a late snow of several inches and continued freezing and below freezing temperatures. Lake Erie was over 95% covered by ice that remained as deep as 36-inches. The cold temperatures and grey skies caught me by surprise and threw me into a depression which left me wishing I had started a medication.
 
Shortly after returning from vacation, I planned a four day trip to the Adirondacks. Nancy was unable to get the time off so this vacation was to be about me.
 
I arrived several hours ago. Work followed me by choice. The decision to engage in work is sometimes a difficult one. Do I review several patient charts daily which might take me 20-30 minutes or do I wait until I return and potentially have 3-4 hours of work? When I break the equation down to those, the decision becomes easier. I’ll complete the work daily.
20140804_180358
I arrived at the Lone Birch, logged into the EMR and got the work out of the way. I changed and went for a very hilly,very hot run. It is after all the Adirondacks. As I train for my first ultra, I learn the practice of walking as part of my run. This is difficult for someone who grew up in the 60’s and 70’s with a very conservative work ethic. My father used to say, “Never get caught doing nothing.” As a result, the thought of walking during a run has, in the past brought pangs of guilt. At 51 there’s no way I could handle the heat and the hills. Perhaps one of these items but certainly not both. Today, there was no guilt. I t is what it is and I am OK with that decision.
20140804_171419
I finished the run feeling not exhausted but surprisingly refreshed. Tomorrow shall be another run before a hike up Goodnow Mountain.
 
Namaste

We’re home!

We’re home! Our plane touched down at 10:40 PM.

This was my first vacation in 9-months with the exception of several “long weekends.” I thought I could do it, even though I’m still unsure what “it” is. Is “it” the desire to have others admire me because I’m willing to not take the vacation time which I have earned? Is “it” the desire to have others admire me because I’m living the American dream? You know the dream, working 80-hour weeks and then complaining about working 80-hour weeks? Id it the voice of my mother in my head remind me as she did when I was much younger, “You shouldn’t complain. You should be happy you have a job. There are a lot of people out of work who would want your job.” There’s the guilt with which I grew up!

Sunday night we returned from dinner and a light rain was falling. I don’t think anyone wanted to admit it but we were all pretty happy about the rain although I’m fairly certain I was the only one who takes as much pleasure in rain as I do. The rain “forced us to take some time off.” Time off while on vacation! What does that even mean? You know you’ve said the same thing. Right now I’m typing this as I’m taking “one additional day off to recover from my vacation before I return to work.”

What a crazy time in which we live, taking time off from taking time off. We no longer know how to relax and simply be. We inaccurately throw around words like being “mindful” because we believe our vocabulary will bring happiness and when it doesn’t, we damn “mindfulness.” Of course I’m not sure we ever understood that concept of relaxing and enjoying the moment in which we are presently in and in not judging it. So anyway, back to the light rain falling on Sunday night…I was checking out Facebook, because the blinking blue light on my phone told me to. I ran across something my niece had posted on her blog. She talked about doing this challenge called #100HappyDays. I smiled, thought about engaging in this for about a minute and then moved on. I have been a therapist for almost 30-years and I do this for a living. I don’t think that makes me an expert by any stretch of the imagination as there are times when I have to work really hard for that smile, the smile which is the outward representation which denotes someone’s happiness. I read a post on Kricky’s blog (http://krickykonoronhkwa.wordpress.com/) which got me thinking. Why not? What can it hurt? Do I really take the time to notice the little things around me, everyday? There was also a comment on the website advertising this photo challenge, it challenged me with what I know all too well…guilt. The statement asked, “Can you be happy for 100-days in a row?” It then said, “You don’t have time for this, right?!” I thought for a minute and said, “I do have time for this.” It’s not about finding the time, it’s about making the time for those things which are important to us. HAPPINESS is very important to me. I have a “Gratitude” basket which sits on the corner of my desk. Everyday I add one slip of paper which denotes something for which I was thankful that day. I thought, “This challenge isn’t much of a challenge for me as I see many things everyday which bring me happiness, so, I decided to take this challenge. The challenge for me will be my perception of those things around me.

The “challenge” in this challenge, is, in my opinion the ability to look at or see things differently. A Facebook friend commented on my check-in at the Tampa airport and she asked, “Leaving?” I responded, “Yes…sadly.” My cousin commented, “Leaving is always the hardest part but you can’t be sad about the departure unless you had the thrill of the arrival!” Well said Collin.  This statement could not be more true. See, it is in our perceptions, our happiness and our sadness. Some of us cry because we no longer have a loved one in our lives and some of us cry because we are happy to have this individual cross our path and to recognize they have enriched our lives for their very presence. I’m the guy at the funeral who says, “I’m going to miss that person but I am truly thankful I had the opportunity to share as many years with that person as I did.”

If your heart so desires or if you can “find” the time, follow me on throughout this “challenge on Instagram (henrydavidthoreau) where I’ll be posting those photos or on my Facebook page. Just look me up. You know the name. There are 24-hours in a day. If you can’t find 5-minutes to be happy or to identify those things which bring or have brought us happiness, that is sadness.

Namaste.